In today’s corporate world, you can not toss a rock in any direction without someone mentioning SharePoint as the glorious solution for social learning and in many cases a LMS.

They love it, and they want you to know about it. It solves all issues, and for some I surmise it all is all knowing – well for those who watch and read their learners’ posts.

But is it all that it is cracked up to be?  The social learning savior or a hero waiting to save the learner in distress?

It depends.

On the Road to Camelot

The first thing to realize is that SharePoint is not an out of the box solution, nor turnkey by any stretch of the imagination. It is a constant evolution of customization, plugins, coding language, etc.  While many companies see this as a non issue, remember that for many of these companies they exist in the Fortune 500 or Global 2000.

Sony has found great success with SharePoint, but take a look at the resources available to them. Do you have such resources in-house at your company?  If not, and you are planning on implementing SharePoint for your social learning success, here are a few reminders, before you dive right in.

The Dark Forest

SharePoint can be a wonderful solution for the right reqs, but first and foremost, SharePoint is a content management system. Sure, they can spin it as a LMS or a collaborative experience (under the guise of social learning).

That said, you could flip it into anything you want with the right customization and capabilities, that in of itself is its true power. But before you head down that path, you may want to consider a few items that are not in the travel brochure.

  • Overload of documents and information – This can happen quickly if your SharePoint – is not constantly managed and being maintained all the time. For social learning, this slew of items – documents, files, etc. can happen quickly.

If you provide greater control to your end users, and after all, it is a social learning collaborative platform, this overload can happen faster then you think.

  • Compatibility with older versions of Microsoft Office, if doesn’t really exist, so unless you have say 2007, you may face some challenges
  • Time – you will have to allocate quite a bit – more then a typical out of the box social learning platform or feature set within a LMS
  • User interface is not great out of the box – so you will need to do customization
  • Governance policy – do you have one in place? 
  • Costs – be prepared to spend – you want to train people how to use it? Do you have in-house resources available to solve problems, work on the solution, create new plugins, templates, add new features, etc.?  If not, are you willing to outsource? Do you already have servers available or will you have to purchase a few more?  Do you offer load balance with those servers, because if you have 10,000 or more employees hitting it, you will want it.
  • How will your learners access it? Can they access your social learning platform at home? Do they need VPN? How will that impact the platform, since they access at various speeds, etc. 
  • People have brought up concerns regarding metadata, directory connections, etc. – true, often it is developer error, but there are times that SharePoint brings its own bugs and issues to the party (if you doubt it, do a search on SharePoint and errors or problems)

 Castle that Way —–>

Besides the potential pitfalls above, many companies still push forward, just as the knights before, hoping that the social learning grail is just around the corner.

It isn’t.  SharePoint as a social learning solution, brings with it the same challenges that any social learning platform offers, because for many people they haven’t figured out what exactly is the problem.

Rather, they see SharePoint as a social learning environment as the solution, which is fine, but unless you know why you want to implement it, have a game plan or process on what it will accomplish after implementation and a strategy going forward, it will suffer, just as any social learning platform.

I am often surprised at the number of people who use SharePoint as a social learning platform, follow the same process as others – as if, they are reading a manual on “social learning – the boring way”. 

A FB like page, profiles, a blog, maybe a micro blog – but often not, sharing of docs and files, and the magical word, “collaborative”.

Despite the plus 25 types of social media you can implement into your SP social learning platform, many see social learning as social networking.

 If I am an end user and your SharePoint social collaborative environment is the same as the real thing, “i.e. Facebook”, and I use Facebook often, why would I want to use the company’s? 

With SP as your social learning platform, you have a vast set of plug-ins and apps, heck you can even create them yourself, but I have heard from execs who complain that they are worried about having their end users post/comment, for fear of profanity or company bashing.

Dragon Alert! Dragon Alert!

  • A report by Global 360 found that 60% of SharePoint respondents found the user experience “inadequate”
  • 47% in the same report, said they are building custom apps  
  • Mark  Morrell who has written about SharePoint 2010, reports that people find it too restrictive
  • A recent survey focusing on Facebook use in the workplace, found that 89% of employees are “stalkers” – which means they were reading other employee’s pages and posts, and not posting themselves 

Lower the Drawbridge, “smack”, Raise the Drawbridge

A SharePoint LMS vendor, told me that they never recommend people purchasing a SharePoint LMS, unless they have previously used SharePoint because of the problems they will face.

It stands to reason then, that unless you have used SharePoint at your company or another company prior to, that you shouldn’t jump head first into SharePoint, especially if you are planning on using it as your social learning or learning management system. 

Yet, people do.  They fail to realize it is required customization. It takes time, costs and resources. It is not a one size fits all nor the social learning holy grail.  Nor is it the learning management system of Avalon (King Arthur reference).

Can it be? Sure, but so can a lot of other solutions that do not require as much.  

If I want a LMS I would go the route of selecting a vendor who has created a LMS specifically for SharePoint.

Bottom Line

SharePoint can be a solid social learning platform, but unless you understand the challenges and potential pitfalls ahead of time, then you might be in for a quite a surprise.

And the surprise, won’t be Merlin at your office door.

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